Archive for June, 2009

Assorted News

Posted in General on June 27, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Alrighty, so, Friday came and went, and nothing new happened. I published a review, just as I have been doing all year. My plan was to try and cease making individual album reviews, and start doing a weekly podcast of songs that I thought were awesome for that week, interspersed with my thoughts on the albums from which the came from. Unfortunately, the legality of distributing such material is sketchy, at best, so (after much soul-searching) I’ve opted not to go that route.

Now, onto some other news. I’m going to be taking a break from regular updates here for an indeterminate amount of time to work on a screenplay; there’ll still be the occasional update here or there, but there won’t be four or five a week. I just won’t have the time.

If this bums you out, I apologize. If not, well, then everything’s okay then, isn’t it?

So, as of right now, I’m signing off; but I’m not dropping out.
Yeah. Check it.

Advertisements

THE DEAR HUNTER – Act III: Life and Death (2009)

Posted in Reviews on June 26, 2009 by monopolyphonic

The Dear Hunter - Act III: Life and Death I discovered The Dear Hunter (not to be confused with this or these guys) by way of Casey Crescenzo’s previous band, The Receiving End of Sirens. Having just had my faith in North American prog shaken to its core some two weeks earlier by The Mars Volta’s disastrously scattered Amputechture, The Dear Hunter’s debut EP (and subsequent LP) proved to be exactly what I needed: prog that felt more like thrilling musical theater than a stuffy Master’s class (which, if done poorly, is often what people will take away from the genre). In short, The Dear Hunter did nothing poorly and everything right – their songs were diverse, intense and intricate, their conceptual material is detailed enough to rival that of Coheed & Cambria, and soon, I forgot who Omar Rodriguez-Lopez even was.

Of course now, The Mars Volta have redeemed themselves (hopefully, their redemption isn’t temporary), so would my fervent interest in The Dear Hunter hold? Answer: yes. While Life and Death is the least bombastic effort by The Dear Hunter to date, this tonal shift is totally appropriate, and the album works precisely because it’s less animated than everything that came before it. While there is some more energetic fare to be found on the album (Mustard Gas, Go Get Your Gun), it’s a lot darker than anything we’ve seen from the band thus far. Actually, “darker” seems to be the key here; save for the occasional ballad (like Father or Saved) most of these songs sound ominous and subdued, especially for a prog album. Yeah, you did read that right – “subdued prog.” What else am I to call a song like The Thief?

Life and Death marks the midpoint of the planned six album concept that Casey Crescenzo is attempting to deliver (again, perhaps taking a cue from Coheed & Cambria in the process). So far, all three acts/albums feel exactly the way they’re supposed to be in terms of the arc of a good story: there’s the Introduction (I), Exposition (II) and then a turning point (III). If this were a play, we’d all be headed to intermission now. What a drag. The suspense is killing me.

VOIVOD – Infini (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on June 25, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Voivod - Infini As far as metal bands are concerned, Voivod are unique in that they exist in that rarified space between the utterly weird and the commercially viable; they’re perhaps the strangest band to ever have the thrash tag attached to them, and although they’re not as revered as, say, underground legends Dark Angel (or above-ground mainstays Slayer), they’ve consistently delivered in their 25 years as a group. Infini is being publicized as Voivod’s final album (in addition to featuring the final musical contributions from founding guitarist Piggy, who died of colon cancer in 2005), and it’s a fitting, if somewhat anti-climatic, farewell.

You see, Voivod’s return with their eponymous 2003 release was startlingly strong; that album brimmed over with vitality, the runoff of which spilled into 2006’s Katorz. On Infini, the band occasionally sound as if they’re in danger of hitting empty, but none of the songs here falter unforgivingly. Indeed, the majority of them are quite memorable; while thrashier songs like Volcano show that the band can still deliver the speed metal goods, it’s the slower, more discordant songs that are the most enjoyable to listen to (such as Room With A V.U. and In Orbit).

While it might not be as impressive as some of the other metal that’s been released this year, Voivod don’t really need to impress anyone at this point. They’re stayed true to their roots for an astounding amount of time, and Infini is the sound of a band tapping those roots dry – how many other thrash bands from the 80’s can say the same?

TORTOISE – Beacons of Ancestorship (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on June 24, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship It really isn’t worth trying to figure out what made Tortoise’s previous album (2004’s It’s All Around You) so dramatically unappealing. So I won’t get into any ruminations on that topic here, save to say that, in the aftermath of its release, Beacons of Ancestorship (even though the album was, presumably, not yet conceived) quickly became an extraordinarily important album for the band, if for no other reason than to illustrate which future paths the band might walk. And so, I waited patiently, and my patience was rewarded – now that Beacons of Ancestorship is here, I can breathe again, feeling once again safe and comfortable with the band’s future.

Beacons of Ancestorship deftly highlights why the band’s disruptively atypical minimalist approach to their music is as hypnotic as it is: namely, that no one else but them can do it with getting bogged down in the musical doldrums. There’s a little bit of everything on display here – tight krautrock, greasy, elastic synths, worldbeat flourishes, proggy guitar spasms, expansive ambient backdrops and much more (including the use of a Wilhelm Scream on Yinxianghechengqi), all rolled into a collection of songs that are as musically adventurous as they are aurally euphoric (again, a combination that few, if any other bands could attain, let alone sustain). Each song brings with it some new, unanticipated wonder, be it the weird, borderline-ominous swagger that drifts through The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One (a song that would make a wondrously villainous motif for Harmony Korine, were he ever to decide to helm an acid western), or the delicate synth pads on de Chelly, a song that would be peaceful if it wasn’t so insistent on plunging itself into dissonance at the most (in)opportune moments (somewhere, John Congleton is smiling).

In addition to being another grand entry into the Tortoise canon, Beacons of Ancestorship also (for better or worse) illuminates what makes Tortoise’s music so inaccessible to some. As a rule, Tortoise don’t deal in direct pathos (something which I confess to love more often than not, particularly when it’s done skillfully, as in the new albums by Mono and maybeshewill), and they don’t fashion empty abstractions masquerading as something deeper, either; they’re always at their best when they’re texture-centric, and thankfully, there’s no better encapsulation of Beacons of Ancestorship than the phrase “texture-centric.”

THE MARS VOLTA – Octahedron (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on June 23, 2009 by monopolyphonic

The Mars Volta - Octahedron Back in 2008, I kicked this blog off on a crotchety note by reviewing The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam In Goliath; my words were less than kind. Given the aimless nature of that album (coupled with that of Amputechture, and roughly 35 minutes of Frances The Mute), I fully expected to hate Octahedron, and so I anticipated it with an odd mix of anxiousness and hostility. Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that Octahedron is the sanest, most compelling collection of music they’ve released since their 2003 debut, De-Loused In The Comatorium.

Whereas Amputechture and The Bedlam In Goliath seemed exist merely to revel and celebrate the excesses of prog (and therefore, to not reap anything by utilizing them with so little direction/discretion), Octahedron is a musical breath of fresh air; it creates its atmospheres through carefully-orchestrated drifts and breezes of sound, instead of constantly churning the same heady whirlwind in circles for 75 minutes. And speaking of, Octahedron is the shortest Mars Volta album to date, clocking in at only 50 minutes – their newfound musical directness results in an album that is remarkably tangible, and wouldn’t you know it, tangibility in this case equates to enjoyability.

The album features many songs that are more minimal in their aims (such as Copernicus, a somewhat eerie but strangely beautiful ballad of sorts), and it’s great to hear the band devote more time to their contemplative side. Of course, lest you think the album is devoid of all signs of prog, you’d be mistaken; Cotopaxi packs plenty of polyrhythms and guitar cacophony in its three minutes, and it’s not just haphazardly thrown out into the ether, as was the case on pretty much every song the band have written since 2006. No, the madness here is structured, and the difference between Cotopaxi and something like, say, Wax Simulacra (from Bedlam) is the difference between spilling a dozen paint cans onto a canvas and a work by Jackson Pollack. Also worth mentioning is that the album closes with one of the band’s finest prog compositions to date, Luciforms. The song emerges out of nothingness and slowly builds to a cerebral, omni-instrument freakout. It’s brilliant, frightening, glorious, and a perfect way to send the album off.

Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the moment The Mars Volta stop trying to impress you with their (undeniable) technical prowess and their steadfast devotion to defying modern musical norms, is the exact moment when they’re most likely to reach you. For my part, I hope that Octahedron is not a one-off anomaly (the band have been touting it as their “acoustic” album, a claim both dubious and a little more difficult to refute than perhaps it should be), but rather, the sound of an ensemble regaining their footing.

A New Direction

Posted in General on June 21, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Hey there, people.

So, I’ve procured some new recording gear, and am now intent on taking this blog in a bit of a different direction. Where to, you may ask?

Well, you’ll just have to wait til Friday.

Stay tuned…

COMITY – You Left Us Here (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on June 19, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Comity - You Left Us Here What comes to mind when you think of the French? My guess it that it’s probably anything but metal (though there are a few notable groups to have arisen from this region of the world, chief among them being Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, plus, you know, all things Neige). And if for some reason, metal is the answer, I’m almost certain that you’re not thinking of Comity, a criminally unknown group who’ve released two blisteringly elaborate albums that mix Isis-style guitar heights with the unabashed thrill of grindcore. It’s been three years since the band released As Everything Is A Tragedy (a single song broken up into 99 tracks – imagine if The Dillinger Escape Plan reworked Cephalic Carnage’s Halls of Amenti – that’s kind of what it sounds like). I was a little dismayed to discover that their new album, You Left Us Here, is only a one song EP, but even though it clocks in at under twenty minutes, in true Comity fashion, it’s a damn interesting (if all too brief) ride.

Forsaking the grindcore aspect almost entirely, the band work here more with tone and texture, as opposed to speed. The album, from a purely musical standpoint, is reminiscent of Kayo Dot in many ways – Comity here show the same love for wringing the life out of sustained tones, making them writhe and spasm violently before jumping ship from one to the other when you least expect it. On top of (and working against) this unusual progression the demon-rat growling of lead singer Thomas, who pushes against the music until it gives way and caves into something new.

That pretty much sums up what the band do on You Left Us Here. Parts of me did miss some of the elements of the band’s earlier styles (though their are a few grind segments here, as well as some post-metal atmosphere in a few places, as well), but overall, the album works great for what it is. It’d be great to hear a whole album done in this style, but if all that ever comes of it is the one EP, then so be it. If nothing else, it’d make the title all the more apt.